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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ode to family,
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)This book was a gift from an Irish friend some years ago. I only picked it up two weeks ago and started reading it: I shouldn't have waited that long, this is a great book.
It's not an 'easy' story though: a former Irish war hero, Moran, lives in the Irish countryside with his four teenage children (one boy and three girls, the oldest son Luke moved away to London after a personal conflict with his father) and Rose, his second wife. We follow the life of the family: how Moran lives alone with the children, gets to know Rose and marries her, the often difficult relation with his children: his second son follows his brother's example and migrates to London. This book is a character sketch of a stubborn, dominant, but also loving father. At first sight, not the type of book where the reader easily identifies with one of the characters. Nevertheless, in a subtle way the story draws you into the life of this traditional catholic family. The underlying theme is universal: intergenerational troubles and difficult inter-human relations. Some things never change, no matter the time period or location.
The book is very well written. Despite the setting being extremely `uncool' in its setting (key words: rural, traditional, poor, hard-working...), I never lost interest in learning more about the characters and the dynamics of their relations. The book succeeds very well in describing the remote life on the farm with Moran dominating the other family members' lives. It creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere. As a reader you understand why also Moran's second son runs away. The women - including Rose - react differently: equally irritated at times, but never questioning his authority and remaining loyal. Yet, and this is the major strength of the book, I developed a growing sympathy for Moran. It's not easy to be a father and a husband, especially if your EQ isn't too high. ;-)
Definitely not a feel-good story but one that made me understand more about human nature and with a surprising sad but nevertheless upbeat ending. An ode to family.
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime Craft,
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)This book is a study of the faults and consolations of humanity: its irrational impulses and self-deceits, its capacity for forgiveness, and also its willingness sometimes not to forgive. Above all it is about the precious human ability to love and be loved. Indeed it shows how the lives of people are shaped by how they love and choose to be loved.
It also shows how choosing not to love - the bitterness that can come from the slights, betrayals and humiliations that make up the retinue of human existence - is not a natural state, and that the grace to overcome it is always available.
The deep satisfactions of this book derive from the exquisite skill of the author. His voice is gentle, yet his eye is merciless. He has deep understanding of the forces that bind men and women, and keep them apart. The most powerful after-effect of reading it, is to feel his own love, or at least his compassion, although it is never explicit. It is conveyed as if across a space. The distance is necessary so we don't lose focus, so the clarity of the picture does not blur. What we see - eventually, in the authors good time - is how we must be part of this story too.
It is a short book, but no work of fiction published since it was published twelve years ago carries more weight.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irish Novels,
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your ordinary, violent Da.,
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)Set in rural Ireland, this uncompromising family drama revolves around Michael Moran, the father of five. A member of the IRA during the time of The Troubles, years ago, Michael has apparently repressed violent traumas which, we are led to believe, are responsible for his withdrawal from society and his current violence against his family--it is not the result of drink or the frustrations of poverty. Now the father of teenage children, he is disillusioned by what he sees as the fruits of this war, remarking, "Look at the country now. Run by a crowd of small-minded gangsters out for their own good."
Within his own household, Michael upholds all the values he fought for years ago. He's a hard, independent man, beholden to no one, and his word is law. To his family, however, he is often a tyrant--obstinate, cruel, full of hatred, quick to anger, and reluctant to apologize-and his second wife Rose, his three daughters, and his two sons are "inordinately grateful for the slightest good will." Outwardly religious, Michael daily recites the Rosary, looking for religious help for his inner turmoil and the complications of his daily life. As he says, "the war was the best part of our lives. Things were never so simple and clear again."
With a main character who is never endearing, McGahern challenges the reader to empathize with Michael and understand why the women in his family remain tied to him emotionally, even after they have successfully escaped his domination and established independent lives away from the farm. Gradually, the reader begins to understand the overpowering need to form connections with the past, even when it is not pleasant--to forgive one's parents for their limitations while remaining strong and faithful to oneself. In clear, straightforward prose of immense power, McGahern piles mundane detail upon detail, creating a sensitive family story of great universality, one which will give the reader much to ponder. Mary Whipple
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quietly compelling read,
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)This profound and gentle book belies its topic, which is survival after war and the inheritance bequeathed by a survivor to his children. I bought it because the Amazon reviews made it sound interesting, and it is! What could have been raucous and full of cliche has a quietness deriving from the fact that the real action has already happened. Moran is made by fighting. The doubt is what his being made will make of his new wife, daughters and sons. Containing them all are the house, the landscape, the daily Rosary and above all Moran's brittle, unyielding law that within the family all are one. Ultimately he is only one of them as well. It is a story of decay and escape, of an Ireland that might not have been worth fighting for, and it is quietly compelling throughout. I have never regretted less an impulse purchase and can't recommend it highly enough. When I read it again, it will be with Edna O'Brien's House of Splendid Isolation - they'd work well together.The House Of Splendid Isolation
5.0 out of 5 stars Paved with Good Intentions,
Although this is one of those tales in which not much happens, I was soon hooked by McGahern's spare prose and subtle ability to convey a sense of place and of human relationships as he describes in minute detail the nuances of family relationships in the rural Ireland of around 1960. On the one hand, I was repelled by the narrow restrictions, the over-concern with convention and religious rituals. On the other, McGahern makes us aware of the value of family ties, working together on the land, taking pleasure in the small simple things of life, enjoying the familiarity and beauty of the farmland. All this is made more poignant by our knowledge of the transience of this way of life, as inevitably the children leave to make a better living in Dublin or London - or to escape the tyranny of a man whom most of them regards as "always.... the very living centre of all parts of their lives".
Moran's bullying, sarcasm and desire to stand on his dignity and have the last word do not endear him to me. Much of the quiet tragedy of this book is the high price he pays for his behaviour in terms of the loss of his old friend McQuaid, even his eldest son. It is quite hard at times to understand how his stoical wife Rose manages to turn the other cheek.
Highly recommended, this is a thought-provoking and moving read which enhances our understanding of ordinary life, with a wry humour to counter what may sound like the downbeat misery of the theme.
4.0 out of 5 stars amongst women,
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)I read this book in order to help someone with an essay . Interesting picture of family life in Ireland and the ties/tensions of a father/children relationship.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fictional Memoir Based Loosely on the Author's Own Life,
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)John McGahern's "Amongst Women" begins slowly, but after a certain point, I really became caught up in it. The book is very well-written; it's lyrical and much of what's going on happens below the surface.
"Amongst Women" reads like an unflinching memoir. And in many ways, it is. The main character, Michael Moran, is for all intents and purposes McGahern's father, an ex-Republican, separated from the rest of the community, and known for being harsh to his children. And McGahern is essentially Luke. (Though, unlike that gentleman, McGahern did come home from time-to-time on short visits and did wind up moving back to Ireland as he got older.) Quite a bit seems to have been drawn from the author's real life.
However, at times, it's hard to feel sympathy for Moran. Yes, he has PTSD, but the way he treats his children drives them away, especially keeping Sheila from going to university. That action and both of the times he snaps at Rose really makes Moran hard to like. Also, not much happens. It's lyrical and floats along, but there's very little plot.
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet book with deep impact,
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and intense,
with but I became fully involved with the family. All the characters develop in credible ways. The political side to Moran's past is handled very lightly. It might even have been good to hear more about that, though quite a lot is implied subtly. Overall, a book that sustains attention and stays in the memory. Recommended.
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Amongst Women by John McGahern (Paperback - 7 May 1991)
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